Learning in 3D: Bringing Businesses Aboard

January 14, 2010

businessweekcoverI’m an excitable boy; I admit that. I’m so fascinated by the possibilities of new tools and technologies for learning, that I ponder why everybody doesn’t just jump on the bandwagon. And that’s why, when I read Karl and Tony’s book, I naturally gravitated towards the sections about adoption of new technology. Learning in 3D covers a lot of ground, but I appreciate the pragmatism of the authors to consider the inevitable question: now that we’ve established the effectiveness of the approach, how do we actually get people to do this?

I know of one large company that attempted to implement a Virtual Immersive Environment (VIE) strategy—very smart people doing very smart things. But despite that, their first effort was rocky. Why? Well, in brief, because they tried to do everything all at once. The audience had difficulty coming up to speed so quickly (What’s an avatar? Why do I have one? How do I get in the room? How do I sit in this chair? Why can’t I hear the presenter?), got confused, and frustrated. The fact that the software hit some technical snags didn’t help.

The nice thing about the book is that it’s sort of a “Radical’s Handbook”—if you read it carefully, it’s all about overthrowing the status quo and putting a new learning regime in place. Well, okay, that’s a bit extreme; in fact, a lot of what I like about it is that it recommends a sane, rational, structured way to adopting a new approach—the kind that won’t make people run screaming.

So while the book is full of killer content, there are some sections I was naturally drawn to. Barton Pursel’s section on Designing Learning Spaces in VIE is great. It reminds us that any capability or platform is simply a tool; you need great design to create a valuable learning experience. He makes a great point about the affordances of virtual worlds, those qualities that allow users to perform specific actions. Even though virtual worlds are realistic some things (such as travel) are actually much, much simpler—good design leverages those features. In fact, he makes a lot of the same points I used to make about simulation in general: just because you can make the environment just like reality doesn’t mean you should. You want to focus on those things that create a great experience. As learning professionals, we need to focus on those things that make Virtual Immersive Environments unique, such as:

  • The ability to visualize, move, and explore in 3 dimensions
  • A persistent environment that you can manage and return to
  • The ability to collaborate in real time
  • The ability to create (and co-create) content (at least in some platforms!)
  • The ability to create an avatar that reflects your own persona, and not just what some programmer told you that you could have

Perhaps my favorite sections are the ones on Enterprise Adoption and the aptly named chapter called Rules from Revolutionaries. These sections focus on the biggest challenges ahead of us: if we believe in this stuff, how do we bring it to our stakeholders? How do we get corporations to see this as a business issue, and not just as a cool new toy. The advice here is perhaps the most valuable in the book; implementing VIEs is a business decision, not a learning decision. Ultimately, a lot of people need to be brought to the table. The most successful corporate adoption of VIE capability that I’m aware of followed the recommendations in this section nearly to the letter. Read this section carefully—this stuff works.

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